February 26, 2016

Are We Ruining Our Own Lives?

Tanguy Sauvin/Unsplash

Yesterday I was snorkeling in pristine waters off the Hawaiian coast when I noticed I wasn’t having a good time.

I wasn’t feeling happy.

I wasn’t feeling joyful.

Even though the coral was beautiful, the water felt amazing, the fish were lovely and my body felt good, I wasn’t enjoying myself.

Why was that? I asked myself.

As I did a check-in with my internal self, I noticed I wasn’t having a good time because my mind was replaying an unpleasant conversation from earlier that day.

My surroundings were amazing and pleasant, but my mind state was somewhere else. Somewhere less than pleasant.

Of course, this observation can seem like a negative thing, but in fact it is the exact opposite.

Noticing that our mind state is somewhere in the past or future is the best news we can have, because only through this noticing can we make a change.

As soon as I noticed I was ruminating about a previous moment of my life, instead of experiencing the moment at hand, I made a shift.

I looked at the fish, I felt my breath in and out of the snorkel, and I savored the ocean water on my skin.

Immediately, I became happy.

Instantly, I was having fun.

It is incredible how easy it can be to improve our lives.

I didn’t have to buy anything, confront anybody, change my job or change my hair. I just had to notice where my attention was and move it to where I wanted it.

I wanted to see the beautiful colors of the fish. I wanted to feel the waves rushing above my back. I wanted to really be in the water.

And of course, I am making the process of this shift sound quite easy, but I am aware that it is much harder than it seems.

I like to say that mindfulness is simple, but not easy.

The instructions for mindfulness are as clear as can be: “Notice where your attention is, and then move your attention to where you want it to be.”

Not that complicated, but once you go to try it for yourself all types of things happen.

Your attention doesn’t want to move. Emotions and feelings arise. Self-criticism, fear and worry tell you that you need to keep your attention where it is.

This is normal.

This is why mindfulness is a practice. We never get it right; we just always keep practicing.

And why should we practice?

So we can stop ruining our own lives, of course.

There are always beautiful things around us, even if we aren’t snorkeling in clear ocean waves. There are people we love, animals who love us, trees, water and even our own face and heart.

We miss the beauty for the mess in our minds.

Our minds that tell us there is a problem, because we made a mistake or we aren’t good enough, or even because other people aren’t good enough.

We need to ask ourselves, Do we want to give our attention to these often self-destructive thoughts, or do we want to notice the beauty?

The answer isn’t as easy as we might think.

The mind thoughts are familiar; they are what we know, and they are often who we think we are.

But as I snorkeled alone, spying into the crevices of the coral reef, I knew I didn’t want to be the thoughts criticizing this person for not listening to me, for not responding kindly. Those thoughts, though familiar, were victim thoughts that made me feel bad.

I wanted to be the colorful fish. I wanted to be the flippers fluttering with the power of my strong legs.

So, that is what I became. In an instant, with the flick of the direction of my attention, I changed who I was—in that moment.

Who do you want to become?


Relephant Read:

Maybe This is What We Really Are.


Author: Ruth Lera

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Tanguy Sauvin/Unsplash // oz dean/Flickr


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